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Tuesday, 26 December 2017

Retro Review: The Ant Bully (2006)

The Ant Bully
Cast: Zach Tyler Eisen, Julia Roberts, Nicolas Cage, Meryl Streep, Paul Giamatti, Regina King, Bruce Campbell, Lily Tomlin
Genre: CGI Animated Adventure Fantasy
Worldwide Box Office Gross: over $55 million 

Plot: After Lucas Nickle floods an ant colony with his water gun, he's magically shrunken down to insect size & sentenced to hard labour in the ruins 

'Lacks Charm Compared To Disney, Dreamworks Heavy- Hitters, But Star Turns Gives Film Boost To What Would Have Been Largely Forgettable'

I took one look at the title, then at the voice casting credits and then the character designs and then thinking this film has a lot of promise and fulfilling potential. Yet in The Ant Bully, I actually got into the story more as the film went on, although I felt it lacked charm with almost nothing characters who aren't entirely memorable, irrespective of the cast names. The title definitely rang bells somewhat in 2006 when I saw the title, but I never thought much for it and the premise just wasn't my bag. It's a film without any thorough explanation, besides the characters, the context, the setting just didn't resonate substantially. Courtesy of Tom Hanks, The Ant Bully may appeal to the younger demographic, whilst older audiences will feel disinterested and be left unimpressed by the fact the characters are void of personality & the narrative fails to generate & sustain watchability. Audiences and movie critics weren't too receptive to The Ant Bully when it came out over 10 years ago. It was Warner Bros's biggest box office bomb of 2006 and despite Hanks's association and Julia Roberts and Nicolas Cage, I could see where and how it didn't catch on.

I always give a film a fair chance, especially one that has been written off by people and critics and I never go by other people's opinions and reactions and only go by my own after seeing the movie itself. Only then would I form my opinions on it. 

Based on the book by John Nickle, 10-year-old Lucas Nickle's small stature becomes the target for a local bully and his cronies. After Lucas's parents head off on their honeymoon, powerless Lucas takes out his frustrations on an anthill in his front yard. Yet the real adventure begins after Lucas is shrunk by Zoc and faces the wrath of the Queen Ant in Meryl Streep, who calls him ''Peanut'' & decides his fate & thus, he is sent to prison & experiences life in miniature size. Fortunately, Lucas has an ally in Hova, who unlike most of the other ants, she sees the good in Lucas as she befriends him. When the ants are faced with an even bigger enemy in local pest exterminator, Stan, it is up to Lucas to spring into action, as well as discovering that friendship, companionship, being a good & decent person is crucial, & as importantly in being courageous, in the face of bullies and standing up to them. 

A mash-up of Honey I Shrunk The Kids with Antz/A Bug's Life, The Ant Bully isn't necessarily a perfect film, nor a perfect animated movie that reaches the high standards that are as seen in many Pixar, Dreamworks & Disney fare (I could have done without the silly poop and pee gags), but it was not bad, either. Its outdoor setting reminds me of Ferngully. Actually, the further it went on, the more I got into it, once the film picks up right after Lucas, the self-titled ant bully is shrunk down to size.

The first half was boring, story was bland and did nothing for me, despite the impressive CGI visuals, although the kid characters, minus Lucas, look iffy and the humour but for some of the lines uttered by Nicolas Cage and Julia Roberts as their characters, weren't that amusing. 

The film has quite a cast ensemble, but not many of them stand out as their characters, and yet also the film doesn't have much substance going for it and the character designs are a tad more elaborate than Antz and A Bug's Life, yet it has none of its charm and feel-good factor and nothing in the story grabbed me and made me love this film. Most animated films have a comic relief character to help inject some amusement and entertainment and to boost its appeal - Aladdin has the Genie, Shrek has Donkey, Toy Story has Buzz Lightyear, Monster's Inc has Mike; unfortunately, this movie lacks a character of this type and because of that, it just feels too stale and almost, nothing. Contrary, however, Julia Roberts as Hova is charming and compared to her turn as Charlotte in Charlotte's Web, it's as natural as it becomes, but even with that, Hova the ant is more sprightly & who has a tad more range than Charlotte and Roberts gives Hova extra depth in not just her vocal abilities, but through evoking her personality & demeanour. Hova is the voice of reason, compared to Zoc, voiced by Nicolas Cage, who is a jerk at first, but as the film wears on, he becomes less of a meanie. He walks a fine line between someone you hate or annoys you to someone who is tolerable or likeable. Although I never truly liked that character and the film & book would have been ideal had Zoc done a heel-face turn and became the main bad guy for Lucas and Hova to battle and defeat. Regina King as Reela & Bruce Campbell as Fugax were all right though.

The Ant Bully doesn't really attempt to break new ground; it's mostly harmless and generic in places and it's not that meaningful as much as it tries to come across that way in parts and it also lacks the fervour of Kung Fu Panda, Aladdin, A Bug's Life and the exterminator as the main bad guy isn't nasty or menacing enough for me to want to hate him. But I have to admit, the longer the film went on, the more I got into it and it also helps in having Cage and Roberts bring in some of that much-needed charm and star quality to boost what is otherwise a nothing film. The star voice-over work, here as a whole, is solid. The ''walking in a mile in somebody else's shoes'' subplot and realising the effects of their actions it has on other people, is not too shabby and the offbeat humour also offset some of the preach levels that could've and might've gone a bit too steep. 

At under 90 mins long, it wastes no time setting up and establishing its plot, right from the get-go and is essentially a story, where it feels a tad bit like Jimmy Neutron Boy Genius, which is no surprise as the creator of this film did Jimmy Neutron Boy Genius and the main character is similar to Jimmy, somewhat, in appearance. 

But the film's message and intentions are clear and though it doesn't give kids or adults a lot of food for thought, the plot could have been fleshed out a little more in places. Despite this, & its poor reception, The Ant Bully was a film that I sort of, liked in a way, the more I stuck it out. & that is due to the casting of Julia Roberts and Nicolas Cage - without them, this film for me would have been far less entertaining and even more mundane. 

This is the 2000s answer to 1992's Ferngully, which was another box office bomb with a not too similar premise; The Ant Bully also has a not so too preachy message but rather a story that is lacking & Julia Roberts acting as the star headliner as Hova, instead of Robin Williams as Batty Koda, with Roberts being my favourite of the voiceover work bunch over the others. 



- It's all right & solid

- Voice-over work by & moreso Julia Roberts was really good, followed by Regina King, Bruce Campbell, Nic Cage, Meryl Streep, Zack Tyler Eisen

- Julia Roberts's Hova is my favourite character 

- Elaborate character designs, especially the ant characters 

Cons -

- Lacks a comic relief and funny character to make it more entertaining

- Insipid story that adults will be bored by it

- The exterminator character makes for an ineffective main villain & Nicolas Cage's Zoc is unlikeable

- Doesn't have much charm, compared to other Pixar & Disney films 

Final Verdict:

Not a bad way to waste 80 something mins and the runtime, I thought was good. Not too long but also not too short, either. It needed to have a more interesting story with better jokes and minus the infantile humour, but Nic Cage and Julia Roberts's vocal turns were impressive, particularly Roberts's and I liked Hova as a character, a good deal. 

A film that got lost in the shuffle amongst heavy-hitters in Pixar's Cars & Monster House, I think unless you are a fan of Julia Roberts, Nicolas Cage or Meryl Streep and keen on them voicing animated characters, most adults will, otherwise, lose sleep and interest in this one. The Ant Bully is (arguably) even more unmemorable than FernGully: The Last Rainforest, which to this day still resonates for some fans, but with this movie, a couple of years down the line, I don't think it will measure up to that.

And still, fans of the original Ferngully will and may also lap this one up. 

At best for me, this is a solid showing but nothing special.


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